We all know that Elkhorn (Acropora palmata) and Staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) have been listed as threatened on the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) since 1996, but did you know there are 64 additional species under consideration for adding this year?
It’s true! The Center for Biological Diversity has petitioned NOAA to move both Elkhorn and Staghorn to Endangered status, add 5 Caribbean coral species as Endangered, and 2 as Threatened. What corals are they? Why might more corals be listed? How will it change their future?
According to NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resource’s website, the seven corals under consideration for an Endangered listing are:
- Acropora cervicornis – Staghorn coral
- Acropora palmata – Elkhorn coral
- Dendrogyra cylindrus – Pillar coral
- Montastraea annularis – Boulder star coral
- Montastraea faveolata – Mountainous star coral
- Mycetophyllia ferox – Cactus Coral
- Montastraea franksi – Star coral
Each of these five Cnidarians can be found in marine waters surrounding the U.S Virgin Islands. They are being proposed for listing due to their vulnerability to climate change–bleaching, disease, and ocean acidification. All corals are additionally susceptible to sedimentation from excessive run-off and other land-based sources of pollution.
The Montastraeae are very similar boulder corals that, until 1994, were considered a single species. Have you seen one before?
Cactus coral can be more difficult to find within the USVI. Most frequently seen between 10 and 20 meters depth, the Mycetophyllia is beyond the scope of most recreational snorkelers and swimmers. Does it look familiar to you?
The Pillar corals are beautiful and generally seen at 5-15 meters (~15-45 feet) depth and is particularly vulnerable to white plague disease.
The spectacular Acroporids are being considered for a jump from the Threatened list to the Endangered list because they bleach quickly. Some Elkhorn and Staghorn stands are on the rebound around the USVI–have you seen any lately?
As always, there are many sides to this debate. Proponents see listing as a step toward greater conservation and access to funding, but opponents feel that listing makes research, administrative, and conservation actions more costly and difficult and that all corals are protected under CITES already. On either side of the debate is the question of enforcement–how will we know if coral protection is actually being enforced and from where will the funds for the additional workload?
To decide for yourself, find more information about the Coral Listings on the following webpages.
Also check out the Friends of the St. Croix East End Marine Park who are helping to protect corals in the USVI-with or without additional listings!